To understand how poorly equipped Mike Trout is to be a designated hitter at this point of his career, consider this:
Idle time makes him so uncomfortable that he can’t stand still for the national anthem. He typically starts to fidget at the first hint of “O” and doesn’t stop until the final sound of “brave.”
So it was no surprise Friday when, after a stretch of mundane at-bats as a DH, Trout marked his return as a center fielder by hitting the first strike he saw into the seats at Camden Yards.
With the tone sufficiently set, the Angels clobbered a sloppy Baltimore team 7-1 to end a season-worst six-game losing streak.
The victory also permitted the Angels (42-41) to avoid falling below .500 for the first time since they were 0-1.
“It’s good to see the offense going…” Trout said. “We went through a rough stretch there. It’s a grind. Tonight was a good all-around performance.”
Because a sprained right index finger hindered his ability to throw, Trout started had nine consecutive games at DH. He batted .214 (six for 28) with no homers and two RBIs in that role.
He talked about how little he liked the empty time between at-bats and how being able to contribute only halfway was a struggle.
“It drove him crazy,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “It’s much tougher than it sounds. The mental part of this game, it’s much easier to handle that bad at-bat when you can go out and play defense.”
It’s also much easier to handle every phase of this game when you have an at-bat like Trout did in the first inning.
After taking two pitches from David Hess for balls, Trout ripped a 92-mph fastball an estimated 408 feet over the fence in left-center.
It was his 24th homer of the season and ended a career-worst extra-base-hit drought. Trout’s previous 14 hits all had been singles, his most recent one for extra bases (a double) coming June 13.
“Early runs are huge,” Scioscia said. “But it starts with pitching. You gotta keep putting up those zeroes and let your offense get going.”
The zeroes were supplied by Felix Pena, a converted reliever pushed into the rotation because of injuries. In just his third career start, Pena picked up his first victory as a starter, allowing five hits and striking out five in 5 1/3 innings.
“It’s a good thing,” Pena said through an interpreter. “I haven’t been pitching a lot as a starter. This means a lot.”
Coming off those half-dozen consecutive defeats and a decidedly one-sided sweep in Boston, the Angels found a nice soft spot in the Orioles, who have baseball’s worst record (23-58).
Of course, when the Angels opened this trip Monday in Kansas City, the Royals had the worst record but still managed to win by shutout.
That wasn’t going to happen Friday, not with Trout’s early homer, Andrelton Simmons adding four hits and the Orioles doing things like misplaying a fly ball into a Luis Valbuena single that helped the Angels score three runs.
It all began with Trout’s shot, a homer also significant in that it was career hit No. 1,132, giving him one more than Scioscia.
“There’s a lot more guys on that list above me,” Scioscia said. “I don’t think that’s going to make his mantel.”
Afterward, the manager informed Trout of the accomplishment, their exchange confirming Scioscia’s suspicions.
“I didn’t know about it until 30 seconds before this interview,” Trout said, smiling. “But it’s cool.”